The Republic of Serbia is a country located in Southeastern Europe on the Balkan Peninsula. Formerly a republic within the nation of Yugoslavia, it became an independent country after the dissolution of the union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006. After settling in the Balkans in the 7th century, Serbs developed a formidable cultural empire, which reached its climax in the 14th century under the rule of Stefan Dusan. However, with the expansion of the Ottoman Empire and the fall of its present-day capital Belgrade in 1521 to the Turks, Serbia would live under Ottoman rule for three centuries. After decades of conflict with the Ottomans, Serbia would finally regain its formal independence at the Congress of Berlin in 1878.
As a former republic in the Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia and at the intersection of Central and Southern Europe, Serbia has many neighbors. It borders Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, as well as Croatia to the West. The mountains of Romania and Bulgaria border its eastern provinces and Hungary neighbors its north. Serbia borders Albania and Macedonia to the south although its border with Albania is presently disputed as a result of the unilateral declaration of independence by its southernmost province Kosovo in 2008.
Serbia is comprised mainly of mountainous terrain. The Dinaric Alps run through the western part of the country and extend down through the southern region. The Carpathian Mountain Range runs down from Romania and is located in the eastern part of the country. The country has numerous national parks, which make up 10% of its total territory. An astounding 31% of the country is forested.
With over 20 recognized ethnic groups, Serbia has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in all of Europe. Of the 7,344,847 people in Serbia (not including Kosovo) 82.9% identified themselves as ethnic Serb. Hungarians are the largest minority group in Serbia at 3.9% and mainly populate the northern province of Vojvodina. The next largest minority groups are Roma, Bosniaks, Croatians, and Albanians. Belgrade has the highest population of any of the former capital cities of Yugoslavia. It also has the largest refugee population of any country in Europe mainly due to the series of Yugoslav Wars in the 1990's.
As a result of Serbia's placement in southern Europe as a crossroads between mainland Europe and Turkey, Serbia has a widely diverse population with respect to religion. Although 84% of their population is adherent to the Serbian Orthodox Christian church, Roman Catholics, Muslims, and Protestants amount for approximately 10% of its population.
Serbian culture is as diverse as its population. As an empire that straddled the line between Central Europe and the Ottomans for centuries, its region heavily influences Serbian culture. The official language is Serbian, a Slavic language that uses the Cyrillic alphabet and still referred to as Serbo-Croatian, the antebellum language of Yugoslavia. Its majority religion, Orthodox Christianity was heavily influenced by its placement in the Byzantine Empire. It enjoys a unique custom known as the "slava", where each family celebrates an individual patron saint as a part of Serbian Orthodox Christianity.